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CornellX UQx | BIOEE101x

Sharks! Global Biodiversity, Biology, and Conservation

July 22, 2019  - August 18, 2019  — 16:00pm UTC time


Secondary School (high school) biology

Time Commitment

We estimate 4-6 hours will be needed per week. 

What You'll Learn

How do scientists study sharks? The short answer is that we tell stories — because every hypothesis is in essence a story — and we test those hypotheses using ever more refined techniques and approaches. We’ll pursue this theme of hypothesis testing throughout our course.

Sharks are part of a larger group, formally known as chondrichthyans that includes the sharks, skates, rays and chimaeras. We’ll consider all of these animals. This is an exciting time to be a biologist because of the explosion of new research using advanced technologies. Digital communication helps scientists quickly exchange information, knit together research teams, and find a global community of people committed to the study of sharks. Unfortunately, such progress is happening at the very moment of a looming extinction crisis that threatens the very survival of sharks and places our focus on actions to conserve sharks.

Sharks! explores the global biodiversity and evolutionary history of chondrichthyans. We talk about weirdnesses of their anatomy and link their features to swimming, feeding, breathing, and breeding. There is a rich media record , but we are going to do a lot more than curate that information for you. Our goal is to show you how to think about questions in biology and to teach you approaches and a philosophy that you can continue to apply to virtually any group of organisms.

Week 1  The Big Shark Picture - Biodiversity and Evolution — begins July 22

    • Explore the habitats and biogeography of sharks around the world.
    • Learn how scientists name and observe chondrichthyans.
    • Use evolutionary trees to study the 14 living orders of chondrichthyans.
    • Discover some special localities in the chondrichthyan fossil record.
    • Take a deeper look at the sharks that Hollywood loves.

Week 2 Miracles of Evolution - Functional Morphology and Physiology — begins July 29

    • Link body form and function to understand chondrichthyan biology.
    • Relate tooth anatomy to jaw function and feeding.
    • Tour the circulatory system and its many roles.
    • Learn the many modes of chondrichthyan reproduction and link them to survival.

Week 3  Thinking like a Shark - Brains and Behavior — begins August 5

    • Debunk myths about chondrichthyan intelligence.
    • Imagine the sensory world of chondrichthyans.
    • Explore how sharks use and generate electricity.
    • Interpret sophisticated and surprising behaviors. 

Week 4 Sharks in the World - Human Interactions, Ecology, and Conservation — begins August 12

    • Connect sharks to food webs and learn why they matter.
    • Examine long standing relationships between sharks and people.
    • Consider impacts of commercial fishing and global trade.
    • Identify critical conservation issues and how you can take action.


William E. Bemis
Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University

Heath Cook
Doctoral Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University

Content Availability

New content will be released each week. The course topics build on one another, so it is best to move through the course sequentially.

Grading and Successful completion of the Course

  • A grade of 55% or more correct responses on the Check Your Understanding problems combined is considered successful completion. Point totals are specified for each question.
  • Watch lecture videos and interviews.
  • Participate in Discussion Forums. Once per subsection (sometimes more), you will be invited to post and respond to posts on designated topics in our discussion forums. Discussions are a great opportunity to help you develop analysis and writing skills. Here, you can also post and answer questions regarding the course. For more information on Discussion Forums, please refer to the Discussion Forum below.

Discussion Board Etiquette

The discussion forum can be a great tool for learning, a place to share ideas, ask questions, and support other learners. If you are not familiar with edX course discussions, please review the discussion guide for students.  To help improve the quality of discussion, please keep the following in mind:

  • If you have a question for the staff, please post a message in the discussion forums with the word STAFF in the subject line.
  • Please be respectful Refrain from inappropriate language and personal attacks. Disagree politely. Try writing, "Have you thought about it from this aspect ?" rather than "You're wrong; this is the right way ..."
  • Please post in the correct discussion board. Each topic has a board for discussing the content material and concepts.
  • Before posting please be sure to search to see if someone else has already asked your question.  This will keep all discussion related to that topic in a single thread.
  • Please be sure NOT to give away the answers when posting your question or when responding to the question of another student.
  • Remember English is not the primary language of many learners in this class. Please try not to use slang or abbreviations.
  • No marketing.

Verified Certification

Upon successful completion, a certificate is is offered only to students enrolled in the Verified Certificate track. This course does not offer an Honor code certificate for students that audit the course. Details about certificates are available on the edX Verified Certificates page.

New to edX?

If you are new to edX, please take time to review the DemoX, it is a great way to learn more about the edX learning platform.

Why Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)?

Because we have a worldwide audience, this course is timed using UTC. The current UTC date and time can be found on this website: 

Honor Code and Academic Integrity

This course is offered online and we encourage collaboration and help between students, but please avoid asking for and posting final answers. Violations of the honor policy undermine the purpose of education and the academic integrity of the course. We expect that all work submitted will be a reflection of one’s own original work and thoughts.

Additionally all students are expected to follow the edX Rules of Online Conduct, available at edX Terms Service.


We made every effort to make this course accessible. If you are a student with a special need, then please let us know and we will do our best to find a solution.